Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Studying Mr. Darcy--the likable unlikable character

My husband and sons were gone on a scouting trip this past weekend. In their absence, I got lots of writing done, but can you guess what else I did?

a. Frolicked at clubs late into the night
b. Threw a wild party at home until the cops broke it up
c. Watched Pride and Prejudice, in my jammies, for the 112th time

No contest--Mr. Darcy will always win. My favorite is the Colin Firth version...tall black boots, breeches, the damp white shirt clinging to his skin after he swims in the lake...

Now where was I?

Ok, this time my indulgence was work-related. Seriously. I'm studying unlikable characters, and although Mr. Darcy is one of my favorite characters of all time, he starts out as a real jerk. This time I paid close attention to how the lovely Ms. Austen turned a real cad into the dreamboat we know and love.

When we first meet Darcy, here is how I'd describe him:
  • Cold
  • Moody
  • Snobbish
  • Contemptuous
  • Vain
  • Cynical
  • Proud
We don't feel this way for long, though. Austen provides little nuggets early on, which helps the reader/viewer question this original impression. We learn from others that Darcy is a loyal friend to Bingley, and that he's devoted to his little sister, Georgiana. He can't be all that bad, right?

And then Elizabeth Bennet throws him off his game. She doesn't cling to him, trying to catch his attention. Instead she's independent, opinionated, and she laughs at him. She doesn't like Darcy at all, and this tilts his privileged world off balance.

Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth, but when he pronounces this love, he botches it. Big time. We feel sympathy for him, especially when Elizabeth rejects him. And as the story unfolds, we learn the following about Darcy:
  • He is honorable (respected his dying father's wishes)
  • He's been betrayed (darn you Mr. Wickham!)
  • He is silently generous (rescues the Bennet name, despite Lydia's ruinous actions)
  • He loves deeply (wants to marry Elizabeth, despite her embarrassing family)
So there you have it--my thoughts on how Darcy goes from bad to rad at lightning speed. Do you have a favorite unlikable character? And if you're a fan of the Pride and Prejudice movies, which version is your favorite?


  1. I am a great fan of Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle version of Pride and Prejudice too. I watch it any chance I get and in the jammies too. We have so much in common!!! I call those days, pajama days. I call one when ever I feel a need to cop out of life for a day. Darcy is my all time favorite unlikeable character.

  2. I've only seen the Keira Knightley version but I do want to see this version. This is a perfect example of likeable unlikeable character.

    Choice C was the best. You chose wisely grasshopper. :)

  3. Swoons. Mr. Darcy is my favorite, too. And Colin Firth will always be THE ONE. I'd never thought about him as a role model for my male characters, but I think you're on to something here. ^_^

  4. I haven't seen the the Colin Firth version yet, but I love the book and Keira Knightley version (love the instrumental soundtrack too. Mr. Darcy is my true love :) He even beats Gilbert Blythe (whom I also love), from Anne of Green Gables, because Gilbert is so good natured and doesn't really show flaws. This was a most delicious post to read. Thanks :)

  5. I love the "unlikeable" character, in fact, they are my favorite! Maybe b/c they have hidden secrets, waiting for me to find. The only unlikeable character to me is the one who is underdeveloped and flat, which has nothing to do with the actual character.

  6. ha ha! I know why you're studying it... LOL. I probably need to also!! :D Maybe in the name of research I'll have to rent Colin Firth er, I mean Mr. Darcy, er, I mean Pride and Prejudice...

  7. i totally relate to watching a movie in my jammies when the family is away - and pride and prejudice is an inspired choice - good for you julie!

    (sry i've been away for a while - happy to be visiting again!)

  8. Sorry, I've never read the book. Think I started my main character off rather unlikeable as well.

  9. Oh, Mr. Darcy! *fans self* Great post!

  10. I'm on the Darcy bandwagon. He's my favorite originally-unlikeable character of all time. And Colin Firth plays him flawlessly. I tried to do a similar thing in my WiP-- start with an absolutely unlikeable character and make him sympathetic (and maybe even a favorite) by the end. It was a challenge! Jury's still out on whether it worked or not. :)


  11. I've never read or watched Pride and Prejudice. **Ducks head in shame**
    You make it sound fascinating though... It is now on my list!

  12. I love the Keira Knightley version. And as for unlikable characters, don't slap me, but Gollum is one of my favorites. He's just so sad, and lonely, and on some level, he's really trying to do right and make himself a better little...whatever he is. Unfortunately, he was too far gone. But he does end up saving all of Middle Earth, however unintentionally, so there's another reason to like him.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  13. A good friend of mine introduced me to the Colin Firth version of P&P a few months ago, and I was hooked instantly! Another point where he gained my sympathy was when his housekeeper couldn't stop praising him. It shows true character that he did not mistreat those "beneath" him. And of course, what clinches it is his grand noble act of saving the youngest sister without wanting anyone to know about it.

  14. I tried reading P&P in high school - and J Eyre too - but sadly just couldn't get into them. Maybe I just didn't give them enough time. Or maybe those unlikeable characters turned me off. I don't remember. I have beautiful hard cover copies of them here - I'll have togive them a shot again one of these days. :)

  15. Colin Firth is my favourite actor, but alas I haven't seen him in P&P yet. I'm surprised you didn't opt for the clubbing Julie, I would have gone with you :)

  16. Good post, Julie. I'm afraid that I haven't seen this film, either. I think I know all of the actors in this version, so it would be the one to watch. One day, I will. No kidding. I'm very curious to see it.
    Darcy's turn sounds brilliantly done. We were just discussing at home recently, my sons and I, that one of my chief complaints about Star Wars, episodes 2-3 is I really didn't believe Anakin's turn to the dark side... Just sayin'.


  17. I enjoyed the version Kiera Knightly. Whoever played Darcy was dreamy.

  18. I love the Colin Firth version of "Pride and Prejudice." I can't remember the director's name but he did an excellent job of casting and directing this mini-series. Colin Firth is such the wonderful Mr. Darcy. He makes me hot and cold all over. That scene where he swims in the lake is amazing and then when he see Elizabeth Bennet after the swim is the stuff that romances all strive to capture. It is epic.


  19. I love both versions, but the Colin Firth version is definitely my guilty pleasure. In fact just about anything with Colin First is my guilty pleasure. I love the BBC version since its length lets the story unfold at a more leisurely pace.

  20. Oh Julie, you know you hit on my all-time favorite subject! I could write a whole blog post about Darcy... well, I have, multiple times, but that's beside the point.

    I think Darcy's explanation of his flaws is the best: "As a child, I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit." In other words, he always knew what he should do, but he had no motivation until Elizabeth turned him down flat.

    I think oftentimes people don't really realize how their behavior appears to others. In Darcy's case, his wealth kept most people from telling him straight up that he acted like an arrogant prig. He had to find someone unaffected by his power and position to be able to see himself as the world saw him. When he did, he was appalled and set about changing immediately.

    I think I'll stop now, before I write another blog post on Darcy here in the comments.

    Oh! And my favorite film version is of course the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth.

  21. I happen to own that particular version of P&P (my favorite as well), and I've often thought of Darcy as a great example not of a character changing so much as the reader's opinion changing as his true intentions and honor come alive on the page. Though he does change some, finally setting his pride aside to declare his love for Lizzy. *swoon* Excuse me, I need to go, erm do laundry...I can fold while I watch;)

  22. I love the BBC version with Colin Firth, all six hours of it, so much so that I can virtually quote the dialogue. I recently read the actual book again, and I enjoyed all the extra sections that can't fit into even six hours of television. I call them the "deleted scenes". ;-)

    It's also fascinating to realise how many times the screenwriter had to invent dialogue in order to keep the plot moving. Jane summarised conversation a heck of a lot, the naughty girl.

    So I did learn something about writing while I was doing all this. Does that make it count as Work?? ;-)

  23. I think all the Critique Sisters would agree that the one with Colin Firth is the best. *sigh* It's an excellent story with stellar character development and that scene is to die for.

  24. I love Pride and Prejudice, although I don't recall seeing all the various versions. I'm not even sure I've seen the Colin Firth version. Now, I'll have to rent it.

  25. Have to say I've not read the book or seen any of the movie versions.

  26. I can't even imagine Mr. Darcy as anyone other than Colin Firth. He was born to play that role! In thinking about unlikable/lovable characters, Eric Northman (of the Southern Vampire/True Blood series) imediately comes to mind. He's a 1,000 year old Viking turned vampire, so he can be cold, ruthless and scary. But as the series progresses, his heart begins to thaw. Charlaine Harris does this gradually, providing glimpses along the way that there is more to him than just his thirst for power. I think he is the most developed character in the books.

  27. Frolicked! What a great word. LOL

    While I like the Colin Firth version, my fave is STILL the later version with Keira Knightly and Matthew McFadyen. Especially where he pronounces his love for her. Sigh!!!

  28. What? You've only watched it 112 times? :) I agree with all of ladies here that Colin Firth IS Mr. Darcy, though I do like Matthew McFadyen very much as well (his stammering declaration of love was very genuine, but not very Darcy-ish, in my opinion). When I only have 2 hrs, I'll watch the movie instead of the BBC version.

    At the beginning of P&P, Darcy's wounds (i.e., his betrayal by Wickham) are very fresh; it has only been a few months. Thus, he is really not in any mood for socializing and meeting girls. He's preoccupied with his sister and how close he came to losing her and he's still worried about her (and his family's honor). That, coupled with his natural haughtiness (as several have pointed out above) lead to his objectionable behavior at the Assembly. "Not handsome enough to tempt me." Ha!

    Yeah. Maybe we all need to get out more...

  29. Fabulous! This is the perfect example of taking a less than perfect person with all their flaws and showing endearing qualities. I like it. We can learn a lot. Right now... my mind is much to be doing too much thinking. Thanks for another great post!

  30. I would say that Snape is one of my favorite unlikeable characters, but I don't know whether I can credit that to JK Rowling or Alan Rickman. Still, he was always my favorite of the series. And I think Rowling did play similar cat and mouse games with his personality.

  31. I've got to go with the Colin Firth version. It's the one I watched first as a kid and will always be my favorite.

  32. Colin Firth IS Mr. Darcy. I don't care how many people have been cast as him! I have a huge crush on Colin, if you couldn't tell=)

  33. Been a while... Feeling coolish autumn Englishy, I'm off the video store for some Pr&Pr.

  34. You guys are such a blast! It's so fun to talk about Darcy with all of you :D

  35. wait wait wait... So A. isn't the correct answer??? :D

    No, that is totally my fave P&P, and my MOM turned me onto it. She's always watching BBC movies. It's so great. And isn't it funny what a big star ole Mr. Darcy is now? Good stuff~

  36. No contest!

    Favorite unlikable character turned good is hands-down Darth Vader.


    After he cuts off his son's hand, he then saves him by throwing his boss into a ship's reactor core.

    I say that a bit pithily, but you touched on a key technique to arcing a character from bad-to-good.

    They must ~early on~ demonstrate redeeming qualities.

    For Vader, his early-on redeeming quality is he was originally a good guy, but was corrupted by the Dark Side. i.e. He was traumatized.

    They also need a moment of redemption, and perhaps one of betrayal.

    For Vader, his redemption comes at the end, as his emperor tries to kill Luke (his son). You never hear Vader defend Luke, but when he had the chance, he didn't kill him.

    I'm stretching it a bit, I guess, but the point is they cannot be completely, 100%, absolute evil.

    Another good one is Megamind. Can't beat a guy who says, "Metroman and I launched into an epic battle of good versus evil! He wins some, I almost win others."

    - Eric

  37. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite books, but can you believe I've never seen any of the movies? Unless you count Bridget Jones' Diary. Keep hearing about Firth in that wet shirt though...

    Thanks for the analysis on how Janie brought him from unlikeable to absolutely swoon worthy. I think those early nuggets are key.

  38. Well now I want to go rent the movie and share it with my daughters. They'll know Colin from Nanny McPhee so it should be easy enough to hook them, right?

  39. Ohhhhh *sigh*.
    Hey I loved your previous post, what a cool idea interviewing your niece. My niece from Australia who is only 14 will be arriving and staying for a few days, next week .... definately going to interview her. Great tips from your blog posts.
    Also wanted to let you know that I have awarded you the Versatile Blog Award... check my blog in about 20mins (give me some time) for details. Thanks.

  40. I saw somebody say 'swoons', and uh...yeah. Me too. Mr. Darcy is awesome, and ESPECIALLY the Colin Firth version. But did you ever see LOST IN AUSTEN? There is a *very* tasty Darcy in that one too.

  41. I don't love the elizabeth in the colin firth version.

    I have to say that I LOVED the newer one. I know it twisted the story a bit more, and smooshed more scenes together, but it was just beautiful . . .
    Also - I have a thing for guys with DARK hair, lol.

    Creating likable, unlikable people is HARD.

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  43. Julie, you seem to have had a rocking time in your family's absence.

  44. This is a problem I have to tackle in my current WIP, making my antagonist an evil bastard with a soft side, hating him while also making him sympathetic. Should a real challenge.

  45. I love Pride and Prejudice! Your assessment of Mr. Darcy is spot on.

    I haven't seen any of the movies but now I want to.

  46. Absolutely wonderful post! I LOVED Mr. Darcy, and my favorite is the Colin Firth version too!